Diablog: Metaphors for Magic in TV, Film, and Literature – Part I

I’d watch a show with just these three.

Rasha: I have a few questions to start off: If we’re talking about metaphors for magick, then we should name the metaphors we see. So what is magick a metaphor for? Also, which shows do we want to name? I guess I just have a couple of questions for now.

Gemma: I started into this thinking about the relationship between The Magicians and Harry Potter, and how the idea of magic is wielded differently in each, and the impact that has on how we understand the characters’ worlds. “Why does Harry Potter take place in a capitalist universe” seems an eternal question for me even as the pragmatic answer in terms of how it targets its audience is obvious, and the moment with the “probability spell” on The Magicians stood out to me re: the limits of what magic can do and what that makes it, symbolically.

Looked up “Harry Potter capitalism” and found this!

R: I’ll go there with you. I’m also interested in how characters cross the threshold from non-magic to magic, going between worlds and between selves. On my walk this morning, I was also thinking about The Golden Compass (books, not movie), The Craft (movie), and Cooper’s Dark Is Rising series (books). I could go on: Furlong’s Juniper, Bellair’s Johnny Dixon books, Alexander’s Book of Three. The question I most often think of with HP is: why are there any Muggles at all? What does the value of secrecy add/take away from the presence of magic? What if different kinds of magic were invisible to different kinds of practitioners? The multiverse explodes in my imagining. And obviously, these concerns show up in The Magicians.

G: The question of secrecy is pretty intriguing on The Magicians too–on The Magicians it seems like magic is in many ways a metaphor for outsider identification. Which is not inaccurate for HP in some ways. I’ve never read Juniper, and it’s been a long time since Dark Is Rising & Book of Three.

R: Juniper is awesome. Magic is a metaphor for Illuminati in Harry Potter.

G: Outsider-insider question, then?

R: Since we haven’t really talked about The Magicians, can I just clear my throat by saying: I found the first episode insufferable, obtuse, and disjointed with overtones of rapey.

This series promo image, which is so gratuitously sexual it doesn’t even show up in the actual show, should have been a clue.

G: That’s fair I mean, in the Golden Compass books a lot of the magic is a metaphor for knowledge & sexuality, though it’s not quite that simple. I find a lot of it disjointed, but something about the first ep did make me go on.

R: The Golden Compass doesn’t close its first chapter with the main female lead magically tied to a radiator in a bar bathroom by a handsome d*ckwad in a suit. I found the protagonist in Magicians insufferable. Then I watched more and appreciated how the show could de-center the protagonist with how much other people didn’t like him.

We get it: he’s just like Edward in Twilight. Wings!

G: Yeah. Q is whiny AF.

R: I am excited for a miniseries to be made of Golden Compass, and I got the books again to return to them, so maybe I’ll have more to say about those in the future.

G: Ooh, I didn’t know there was gonna be a miniseries! That sounds better than Nicole Kidman.

R: It has to be. Something I did like about The Magicians is the different lineages that people might come from to enter magick: there’s Hogwarts, I mean Bushbrinkles*, there’s heist-gang magic, there’s community healing earth magic. And that, which still maintaining the insider-outsider metaphor of magic, disrupts the idea that only an Elect Few are granted access to Magicks.

Hedgewitches, though severely underutilized, are maybe my favorite part about this show.

G: Yeah. I liked the worldbuilding. The more I’m thinking about it, the more the questions around magic as metaphor seem to be: what are you an insider to and what are you an outsider to?

R: That seems like the question you think about most of the time. Explain more how it fits here.

G: Often, yeah, which might be why I was interested in this topic. But I’m just thinking about the psychology of Tom Riddle, on which we spend so much time in HP, and the psychologies of Penny and Eliot, and the psychopolitical aspects of both. Tom Riddle becomes Voldemort to codify his power over a world that was cruel to him in his childhood. Penny has this incredible power that means he can never fully connect with the rest of the world. Eliot is so destroyed that he needs to go to another kingdom and lose himself to find his only hope of salvation (I didn’t like that, but it happened). But I suppose those questions of Love–Dumbledore’s view of it, Lyra and Will’s view of it–are always part of that same rotation.

R: Julia is an outsider to Busbybrinkleys*, but she knows more about the kinds of magic that QC and team need in the trip to Illyria/the Farside. I really do get terrible at remembering the fantasy names. they just evaporate from the brain.

G: Fillory is the Farside, but I can’t remember the name of the school either.

R: That makes me feel better! I’ll just keep making it up.

G: BRAKEBILLS! That’s the school.

Great logo, though I wish the Dean got more to do.

R: Oh, now you’ve ruined me. I was going to call it Bailiwicks next.

G: It took me till now! But we can keep naming it things. I mean, magic in everything seems to contain insider-outsider questions and relationships between love (and, in the non-HP cases, sex) and power.

R: The love and power seems like we’d need to handle it in a Part II. In many fantasy books, I can’t help but read the author using a character’s magical powers as a metaphor for the act of creating art. Most writing that talks about writing and film that portrays a surrogate for the director annoys me, but I don’t always mind it when magic is used as the metaphor for creating art.

G: That’s true. And certainly magical personalities seem linked to artistic temperaments.

R: For sure. You have that innate gift, but it must be honed with practice. Perhaps by learning the right words and internal alignment (HP) or the elaborate hand movements and internal alignment (Magicians) or wrapping some hair around an ancient object (Dark Is Rising). For Part II, I will be thinking about how much effort goes into becoming magickal–like, how hard is magick really? Sometimes it’s harder than others.

G: That sounds like a good way to begin.

Just a little something for you all.

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